Glossary of Japanese Boats and Terms

[Updated 9/20/20]

This is a list of terms relating to traditional Japanese boats, or wasen, that I’ve collected in my notes. This is not even close to being a comprehensive list, and the descriptions given are really quite basic. I’ve compiled this list from my own studies, and with the help of many others who are more knowledgeable than myself.

Yubune 湯船 - a bath boat from the Edo period.

Yubune 湯船 – a bath boat from the Edo period.

Sources of information include the book Funakagami, books I’ve collected by Professor Kenji Ishii, the works of Douglas Brooks, information parsed from the Internet, and information I’ve gathered personally through visits to the Toba Seafolk Museum, the Urayasu Museum, the Edo Tokyo Museum, and the Ogi Folk Museum.

At some point, I hope to write more complete and detailed descriptions for each of the terms. Probably, this will happen one term at a time, as I learn about each one and study them in more depth. However, the list of boat types seems endless, and I have only a small number listed here. I have many more that are not in this list, so I will expand it over time.

I’ve grouped these terms in a way that seems most meaningful to me. I’ve sorted alphabetically where possible, but, more importantly, in order or relevance. Note that this page is under construction and will be revised as time permits.

For the boat types and general terms, I’ve tried to include the terms written in kanji (chinese characters adopted for the Japanese language). However, in many cases, I’ve only found the names written in katakana (one of two phonetic alphabets used in Japanese). Boatbuilding terms, in particular, seem most commonly written using katakana.

I include the Japanese text in order to make it easier to search the web for images and information. Simply copy the characters and past them into your web searches and you’ll find a lot more than simply using the romanized words.

 

General Terms

Wasen 和船- meaning “traditional Japanese boat”. A general term for any wooden boat of Japanese style.

Amibune 網船 – a general term for a net fishing boat.

Bezaisen 弁才船- a class of large coastal transport, of which there are several types.

Gyosen 漁船 also Tsuribune 釣船 – fishing boat

Junkōzōsen 準構造線 – term for a boat with a semi-structured hull.

Kōzōsen 構造船 – boat with a fully planked hull.

Kawabune 川船 – general term meaning riverboat.

Kuribune 刳船  – term for a boat with a dugout hull.

Sengokubune 千石船- meaning “1000 koku ship”. A common term for bezaisen.

Tsuribune 釣船 also Gyosen 漁船 – fishing boat.

O-mawashi a general classification of boats designed long distance, sea voyages, such as bezaisen or sengokubune.

Ko-mawashi a general classification of boats designed to operate on both rivers and seas, such as godairikisen.

Uchikawa-mawashi a general classification of river-going boats, such as chabune, chokibune, takasebune, etc.

 

Boat Types

Aganogawa Kawabune 阿賀野川川船- a long, narrow riverboat of the Agano river used in cast net fishing.

Ayubune アユブネ – A term for a riverboat used in fishing a popular sweet fish called Ayu. The term is used in various regions of Japan and there is no single type of Ayubune.

Bekabune ベカブネ or Beka ベカ- a one or two-person boat used in Tokyo Bay for shell fishing or gathering seaweed. The term might be used in other regions, as are the terms Beka, Kawabeka, and Noribeka. Bekabune are sometimes carried aboard larger boats called Utasebune.

Chabune 茶船 – a general term for a small boat used for transport on rivers during the Edo period; the name refers to a small riverboat used for selling food and drink (Funakagami).

Chokibune 猪牙舟 – a river boat used as a water taxi during the Edo period. Most well know for carrying passengers to the pleasure district of Edo. Also known as a Sanyabune.

Choro 丁櫓 – This is a term used for a small, sculled boat. The usage of the term varies depending on region.

Godairikisen 五大力船 – a large, local transport capable of operating on rivers or on the ocean.

Gozabune 御座船 – large boats used by aristocrats or high-ranking warriors. Often decorated for fesitvals. Built for use both on rivers and on ocean. Seagoing Gozabune were essentially warships used to demonstrate a warriors prowess during peaceful times. River boats used for the purpose were called Kawagozabune.

Hacchoro  八丁櫓 – an 8-oar boat used for pole-and-line fishing of bonito. At one time, boats of this type from Yaizu were commissioned as escort boats for the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Higaki Kaisen 菱垣回船 – A bezaisen of the Higaki trade guild, operated between Osaka and Edo (e.g. Naniwamaru).

Hiratabune 艜船 – Hiratabune is a general term for various cargo riverboats. On the Tonegawa, the name refers to a large riverboat from 50 to 80 feet long, similar to the Tonegawa takasebune. Long and narrow, flat bottom boat, used to transport freight. The largest had a capacity of 300 koku (Deal). Large hiratabune and takasebune can be easily confused due to their similar appearances, but hiratabune generally have a cutwater or stem.

Hobikisen 圃引き船 – a side-trawling fishing boat used on Lake Kasumigaura.

Honryou ホンリョウ or Honryousen – a small riverboat from Niigata prefecuture used for fishing and sometimes for carrying gravel.

Isanabune 鯨船 – An old term for a fast, multi-oared boat used for whaling. A more common term today is kujirabune.

Kasaibune 葛西舟 – Fertilizer, or Night Soil, carrying boat.

Katsuobune カツオ船 – a boat used for bonito fishing. 8-oared variant is sometimes also referred to as a Hacchoro 八丁櫓.

Kitamaebune 北前船- a northern port bezaisen (e.g. Michinokumaru, Hakusanmaru).

Kurawankabune or  kurawanka くらわんか船 – a local, informal name (and not a very nice one) for a chabune used on the Yodo river to sell food and drink to passenger boats.

Kujirabune 鯨舟 – a colorfully painted whale boat used in whale spear fishing from Shiroura, Mie prefecture. Same type of boat was used for pole-and-line fishing of bonito, and was called a Hacchoro 八丁櫓. (13.7m, 2.3m)

Marukibune  丸木舟 – a type of boat with a dugout hull. See the general type, Kuribune.

Marukobune  丸子船 – a traditional design unique to Lake Biwa. The name is apparently a reference to the round shape of the hull’s cross-section. The type was used extensively during the Edo period to carry cargo across the lake and features a heita-style bow with vertical stave planking, unique to Lake Biwa boats.

Mizubune 水船 – a water carrying boat (from Funakagami)

Mokaribune (see Zaimokubune)

Mossoubune 持左右舟- a tow boat used in whaling.

Nitaribune 荷足船 – a cargo boat used on the canals of Edo.

Nouninawase ノウニンアワセ – a Niigata rice field boat (tabune), sometimes used for hauling gravel.

Sandanbo 三反帆 – a small 3-sail (hence the name) riverboat used to ferry passengers on the Kumano river in Wakayama prefecture.

Sanjukokubune 三十石船 – a 30-koku transport that was used on the Yodo river system for transporting passengers and goods.

Satsumagata サツマガタ – Literally, a Satsuma-style boat used for mackerel and marlin fishing on the west coast of Satsuma.

Sedoribune 瀨取り船 – a small boat for loading and unloading cargo from larger ships.

Sekobune 勢子舟 – a chaser-type boat used in whaling. See kujirabune.

Sobakiri-uri no fune そば切り売りの舟 – buckwheat noodle selling boat.

Sosuibune 疏水船 Literally, a canal boat. The term refers to a boat type developed in the late 1800s in the Lake Biwa region when canals were cut connecting Kyōto to Lake Biwa for transportation and drinking water. Sosuibune were used for carrying rice and firewood to Kyōto. The boats had a capacity of 30 koku and measured around 35 shaku in length and 6 shaku in width. These boats were built with the heita-style bow, common to boats on Lake Biwa.

Suzumibune 納涼舟 – a boat for enjoyin a cool evening breeze

Tabune タブネ – a ricefield boat. Usually these were no more than large tubs pushed or pulled along flooded rice fields.

Takasebune 高瀬船 – long and narrow riverboat with a flat bottom, used to transport freight, typically. Large takasebune and hiratabune can be very similar in appearance, but takasebune generally have a flat bow with no cutwater.

Taraibune たらい舟 – a one-person tub boat from the Niigata coast, most commonly from Sado island, used for inshore and shell fishing.

Tarubune 樽舟- a barrel retrieval boat used in whaling

Taru Kaisen 樽廻船 – a barrel carrying bezaisen, usually carrying sake or miso, but often carried other cargos.

Tenma テンマ or Tenmasen 伝馬船- common term for a workboat or lighter.

Toamibune 投網舟 – a cast-net fishing boat.

Tosen 渡船 – a river ferry (from Funakagami).

Tsukimibune 月見船 – boat for moon viewing in Autumn.

Ukaibune 鵜飼船 or Ubune 鵜船- a cormorant fishing boat.

Uma Tosen 馬渡船 or Saku Tosen  昨渡船 – double-ended ferry for carrying horses and cattle.

Urobune 売ろ舟 – a boat that sells something.

Urourobune うろうろ舟 – casual wandering boat. Selling light refreshment (drinks, watermelon) among pleasure boats.

Utasebune 打瀬舟 – Term for a side-trawling fishing boat. In Hokkaido, utasebune are small fishing boats with two masts, rigged with triangular sails. The ones used on Tokyo Bay are large boats with two masts, carrying square sails.

Uwanibune 上に船 – small boat for unloading cargo from a large anchored boat; lighter.

Yakatabune 屋形船 – a large river-going pleasure boat with a deck house that could accommodate a large number of people for an afternoon or evening of entertainment.

Yanebune 屋根船 – a roof boat, like yakatabune, but smaller.

Yubune 湯船 – a bath boat (from Funakagami). A floating public bath typically used by cargo ship crews and dock workers (Deal).

Yuusen 遊船 – excursion boat, pleasure boat.

Yuusan bune 遊山船 – cruising boat, enjoying-life boat.

Zaimokubune 材木船 or Mokaribune – Lumber Boat. A raft-like boat used on Tsushima Island for harvesting seaweed.

Zutta Tenma – “crawling” workboat, Himi name for a tabune.

 

War Boats

Atakebune  安宅船  – A large, lumbering, castle-like war vessel used during the Warring States period. Mounted with a large protected structure housing two or more decks, this was the largest type of Japanese warship. During the Tokugawa era, these ships were banned.

Sekibune   関船  – Used in the Warring States period, smaller and faster war vessel than the Atakebune. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as Hayabune, or fast boat. It has a protected structure on the main deck, usually with some protection for those on the open top deck. During the Tokugawa era, the use of these ships was severely curtailed, though many daimyo used them as Gozabune – highly decorative personal yachts.

Hayabune 早船     – Fast boat. Because Sekibune are much faster than Atakebune, they are sometimes referred to as Hayabune. The term may also used for a boat used designed to race, such as the boats used in a ceremonial race on the Kumano river.

Kobayabune 小早船 or simply Kobaya 小早 - Small, fast boat. Small, is relative, and a 55-foot row galley is smaller than most Sekibune, so it is referred to as a Kobaya.

 

Boat Terms

These terms are very regional, so they may differ depending on the boatbuilder and the locale. In some cases, I’ve listed more than one term together, but there may be others as well.

 

Akaita – soft sheet copper

Ban バン – Himi term for a small deck at the bow. See Kappa.

Chigiri チギリ or Chikiri チキリ- a wooden dovetail key commonly used in Niigata and Toyama prefectures to fasten together adjoining planks.

Chyou チョウ – Toyama term for a central bottom board. See Shiki.

Donoma -The open deck space in the middle of the bezaisen. 

Funabari フナバリ – beam.

Furikake – lower side planks of a marukobune

Hako ハコ or Tomobako トモバコ – Toyama term for wedge-shaped box structures sometimes present behind the transom, connecting the garboard planks hull planks.

Haritsujiki – The harisujiki was a book containing location specific directions for reaching specific destinations.

Hayao ハヤオ – rope attached to the ro, or sculling oar, to help control its motion.

Hayaoneko ハヤオネコ – wooden piece on the inside of the hull, to which the rope for the sculling oar is attached.

Heita – a style of bow construction found among many types of boats on Lake Biwa including the marukobune. A heita bow is constructed of sharply angled vertical staves, creating a rounded shape.

Ho 帆 – sail.

Hobashira 帆柱 – mast.

Hogeta 帆桁 – yardarm.

Hojirushi 帆印 – The black markings on the sail of the bezaisen that identify the ship’s owner.

Hozo ほぞ – tenon.

Hozoana ほぞ穴 – mortise.

Hozurikuda – The cable that runs from the top of the mast to the bow touches the sail when it is unfurled, so it is wrapped in a wooden sheath to avoid damaging the sail.

Kai カイ – paddle.

Kaji 舵 – rudder.

Kajiki カジキ or Kanjiki カンジキ – garboard planks.

Kanzashi – mooring bits – short post for tying of lines, often square tapered, with a faceted nob at the end.

Kappa カッパ – raised fore deck to protect from spray. See Ban.

Kasagi – mast gallows

Kawara カワラ – bottom (also shiki)

Koberi コベリ- rubrail

Konagashi コナガシ or Konaoshi コナオシ – triangular piece located behind the Miyoshi that effectively extends it underneath the bow of the boat, allowing the garboard planks to rise up at the bow.

Kotsunagi コツナギ – mooring beam

Magari マガリ – half frames supporting the hull planks. See Matsura.

Makinawa or Makihada – caulking bark of the maki tree

Mariguchi or Maruguchi マリグチ – round hole in the stern beam for fitting a rudder.

Matsura マツラ – frame. See Magari.

Miyoshi 水押 – stem

Muchugokaku – A type of foghorn powered by an attached bellows. Sounded when entering or exiting a harbor to alert nearby ships.

Nedana ネダナ – lower, or garboard plank. Sometimes called Kajiki.

Nobori – a pole-mounted banner or flag, usually tall and rectangular

Omoki or Omogi オモキ – a log carved out in an “L” shape forming the chine for a boat. The log planks of a marukobune.

Ro 櫓 – sculling oar

Rogui ログイ- the pivot pin for a sculling oar

Sagari 下がり- a tassle decoration found on the bow of some larger boats

Sao サオ or 竿 – a pole, in this case used for propelling a boat.

Sekidai セキダイ or Namigaeshi (波返し) ナミガエシ – boards fixed at the rubrail which extend out from the hull and run the length of the boat, used to improve stability in rough seas.

Shiki シキ – bottom (also kawara)

Shikiriita シキリイタ – floor timber

Tana タナ – planking strake

Tateita 竪板 – an end plank at either bow or stern

Tatematsu タテマツ – a vertical support connecting upper and lower funabari.

Te-kaki テカキ – hand paddle (Tosa)..

Todate トダテ – transom.

Toko トコ or Ootoko オオトコ – stern beam (a heavy beam).

Tomo 艫 – the stern of a boat.

Tomobako トモバコ – see Hako.

Tomo no ban トモのバン – Himi term for a small raised deck at the stern of a boat.

Tsunatsuke ツナツケ – a small beam located near the bow or stern for tying ropes to.

Uchimawashi – Whenever the boom is raised and lowered, this component fulfills the role of connecting the boom and the mast so that the boom can slide smoothly up and down the mast.

Uwadana ウワダナ- shear plank.

Uwakoberi ウワコベル – caprail.

Wajishaku – A magnetic compass used by sailors to navigate the ship.

Yaho や帆 – fore sail.

Yahobashira や帆柱 – fore mast.

Yakata 屋形 – deck house or cabin

 

Construction Techniques

Omoki-zukuri 面木造り– carved log construction style (see Kuribune)

Ita-awase – fitted plank construction

Suri-awase – sawn plank fitting

 

Tools

Kanna – plane

Kasugai – iron staples

Nokogiri – a common name for small handsaw

Nomi – chisel

Sumitsubo – ink line tool

Sashigane – flexible square made of thin steel

Sumisashi – bamboo pen with split, beveled tip

Surinoko – a type of handsaw

Toishi – waterstone

Tsubanomi – a sword-hilt chisel

Wakitori – a type of plane